Colls' unbeaten run this year came to an abrupt end on Saturday, beaten by in form Colne despite taking the lead just after the hour mark in front of a bumper 400+ crowd at the Skuna. Manager Micheal Clegg made one change to the starting line-up at Prescot Cables the previous week, with Conor Gaul coming in to add some width in place of utility man Dave Sherlock who dropped to the bench. Also on the bench was new signing Lewis Nightingale, as the paperwork was hastily processed on Friday.
Colls made a bright start, kicking down the slope. Both Ben Hardcastle and Conor Gaul had early sights of goal before Colne had chance to settle. Brad Lynch attacking down the left provided the Reds' first foray into the Colls box.
Lee Pugh's Dave Challinor-esque throws to the far post caused problems throughout the game for Colls and it was one of these midway through the first half that brought Colne's best chance of the half. As time appeared to slow down, repeated attempts on goal from within the six yard box were successfully repelled by the Colls' defence.
With much of the play being in Colls half, the Black and Whites had two further sights on goal before the half came to a close. On 32 minutes, Ben Hardcastle slotted a ball down the channel for Connor Hughes, but his tame shot found the side netting as the experienced keeper Hakan Burton narrowed the angle. Hughes then turned provider on 40 minutes as his lay off to Oli Roberts on the edge of the box led to a shot which was tipped out for a corner by Burton low to his right.
The game sparked to life on the 64th minute, a Colls cross from the left deflecting out for a corner, much to the chagrin of the Colne defence, video evidence suggesting they may well have had a case. Oli Roberts' ball in was directed goalwards by Danny Lafferty after a smart run across his marker Marcus Poscha, only for Colne captain Alex Coleman to block the header. First to react in the box was fellow centre-back Ian Rowlands, who early in the second half had nodded another Roberts corner narrowly wide, his left footed shot flying past Alex Coleman who had vacated his position on the post and into the net to give Colls the lead.
Colls continued to press for a second goal that would clinch the game, on 70 minutes a free kick in to the box again fell to Rowlands via a combination of Hardcastle and Lee Pugh, this time the defender unable to sort his feet and the ball bobbling out of play. Minutes later, Hardcastle found space in the box after Vinny Bailey rode a succession of dubious challenges to square the ball, Burton again well positioned to block his shot.
However the second goal wasn't to be as on 76 minutes Colne scored from a corner of their own, playing out very similarly to Colls' opener, with Alex Hine on hand to grab the equaliser. The immediate call from the Colne bench was to go in search of the winner.
Tom Bentham had the same idea for the Colls as he tried one his specials on 80 minutes, a sweet strike from outside the box that was well saved by Burton.
It was another corner that saw Colls' best chance of restoring their lead, that man Ian Rowlands again ghosting in but unable to direct his header on target on 84 minutes after Ben Hardcastle had a shot again well saved by Burton.
The game turned on it's head on 87 minutes when Brad Lynch again caused problems on the left, crossing for Alex Curran to volley past Hartley to snatch all three points, much to the delight of the travelling Red Army.
Speaking after the game, manager Micheal Clegg asserted that Colls hadn't deserved to lose the game but needed to show a little bit more game management when in a winning position. Results elsewhere in the division meant Colls retain their 4 point lead in the race for promotion to the Northern Premier League.
Colls are back in home action next Saturday 9th March when Newcastle Town are the visitors to the Skuna Stadium for a 3pm kick off. We are then at home again on Monday 11th March when high flying Leek Town arrive for another pivotal game in the Evo-Stik West, 7.45pm KO. Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Clive Smith, Gareth Peet, Oliver Roberts, Daniel Lafferty Ⓒ, Ian Rowlands, Ben Hardcastle (James Kirby 88'), Vinny Bailey, Tom Bentham (Jordan Cover 84'), Connor Hughes, Conor Gaul (Lewis Nighingale 61'). Substitutes (not used): Dave Sherlock, Matt GrimshawTwinshock Colls Mon of the Match: Ian Rowlands Attendance: 402
Photograph: Ian Monk